NHLPA approves of head shot rule

Updated: March 25, 2010, 6:07 PM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

The NHL Players' Association gave its final blessing Thursday to a proposed head shot rule the NHL will immediately put into place for the remainder of the season.

The modified rule is designed to help curb blindside hits to the head with the threat of supplemental discipline.

[+] EnlargeMarc Savard
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesBoston's Marc Savard will likely miss the rest of the season after taking a hit to the head from Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke earlier this month.

NHL owners voted unanimously Tuesday to implement the expedited rule, but did so before getting the players' blessing, as per their rights in the current collective bargaining agreement. That set off some heated comments Tuesday night from both sides before calmer heads prevailed Wednesday in discussions.

"We believe this is the right thing to do for the game and for the safety of our players," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement Thursday. "The elimination of these types of hits should significantly reduce the number of injuries, including concussions, without adversely affecting the level of physicality in the game."

The rule prohibits "lateral, back-pressure or blindside hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact." The league will have the power to review such hits and apply further discipline.

The five players on the NHL/NHLPA's competition committee endorsed the rule Wednesday, but wanted the NHLPA executive board -- which consists of player reps from all 30 teams -- to also vote on it Thursday.

"We fully support our Competition Committee members' endorsement of the league's proposal to implement supplemental discipline this season for blindside hits to the head," the NHLPA executive board said in a joint statement Thursday.

"Our agreement applies to the remainder of the 2009-10 NHL regular season, as well as the 2010 playoffs. This temporary implementation will ensure that the joint NHLPA/NHL Competition Committee will have time to develop and consider a proper and full-time rule, one that includes an on-ice penalty component, this summer," the executive board said.

"We are encouraged by the league's recent willingness to explore on-ice rule changes as a means of reducing player injuries and have no doubt that by working together, a safer working environment can be established for all NHLPA members," the board said.

The modified head shot rule includes supplementary discipline, but not the on-ice penalty recommended in the original rule change proposed by the league's GMs earlier this month at their annual meeting.

The on-ice penalty is expected to be made part of the permanent rule for next season, depending on what the competition committee decides when it meets again in June.

Florida forward David Booth missed 45 games this season after getting hit by Philadelphia captain Mike Richards -- a play that was legal at the time, but will no longer be tolerated under the new system.

An unpunished blindside hit by Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke against Boston's Marc Savard on March 7 also increased pressure to enact a new rule. Savard sustained a concussion that will likely sideline him for at least the rest of the regular season.

The GM meetings began the day after Savard was hit.

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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